Sioux Falls-based Paulsen Marketing is contributing to discussion of rural policy with a polling project it calls “Rural97“. That title refers to the fact, cited at the top of Paulsen’s webpage for its rural polling, that 97% of our nation’s land mass is rural.
But Paulsen isn’t polling or pitching to pastures; it’s trying to sell things to rural people. To that end, they would more accurately brand their project “Rural20“:
Despite the increase in the urban population, urban areas, defined as densely developed residential, commercial, and other nonresidential areas, now account for 80.0% of the U.S. population, down from 80.7% in 2010. This small decline was largely the result of changes to the criteria for defining urban areas implemented by the Census Bureau, including raising the minimum population threshold for qualification from 2,500 to 5,000. The rural population — the population in any areas outside of those classified as urban — increased as a percentage of the national population from 19.3% in 2010 to 20.0% in 2020 [U.S. Census Bureau, “Nation’s Urban and Rural Populations Shift Following 2020 Census,” 2022.12.29].
If Paulsen were looking strictly at the South Dakota market, it could call its project “Rural43”: our 57% urbanity leaves us with the seventh-highest proportion of rural residents in the nation, behind Arkansas, Montana, Mississippi, West Virginia, Maine, and Vermont. Those last four are the only states with majority rural populations.
As I noted last year when minoritarian election denier Logan Manhart claimed that small-towners are the only “true” Americans, non-metro areas generate 90% of America’s GDP. In other words, that rural 20% of the population generates only 10% of the nation’s economic activity. Rural Americans punch below their economic weight. 66.6 million rural people (I add up the total rural populations in the Census spreadsheet; Paulsen refers to “nearly 46 million people who proudly call themselves rural Americans“) can still buy a lot of beer and Prii (electric cars are one focus of Paulsen’s research, and we’ll get to that in another post), but per person, rural folks can’t buy as much beer or as many Prii as properly marketed-to city folks.
Paulsen is thus pitching to a market that certainly covers a lot of territory but offers less lucrative opportunity than the overwhelming urban majority.